“A Vocabulary of Belonging”

An Interview with Poet Eavan Boland

When Eavan Boland began publishing her poems, in the 1960s, she faced two problems. The first was that she was a woman in a homogenous, conservative, and extremely Catholic Ireland. The second was the burden of history: just five decades after winning independence, the Irish nation—especially its poets—clung to an obsession with a past of myths and romantic landscapes. 

While raising small children in the middle-class suburbs of Dublin, the world of the Irish literary canon was a universe away from Boland’s own experience. In response, her work remained modest, often focusing on domestic life: the sound of a kettle boiling, of a child falling asleep. But it also merged the public with the private, and sought to look at a past that was left out of history books, skipping across centuries in a single line, like a camera gliding through time. 

I first read Boland’s poetry as a teenager. I learned it by heart for my Leaving Certificate Examinations in Irish high school, and came to it again much later, through her New Selected Poems, published in 2013. The following interview was conducted over several long correspondences by email. I had hoped to meet with Boland at her home in Dublin, before I learned that she was in California, where she lives half of the year, teaching as a professor of English at Stanford University.

—J. P. O’Malley

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J. P. O’Malley is a freelance journalist who writes mainly on books. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, and many others.

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